CHRYSSANTHOS LAZARIDES

No yielding to a pirate state

COMMENT

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during an event in Ankara last month.

TAGS: Turkey, Politics, Security, Defense

Dialogue is a standard “routine” in foreign affairs. But having an “innocent dialogue” with Turkey is not what is being proposed to us now. On the contrary, what is being advocated today is entirely different: to compromise our own sovereign rights under open provocations and consecutive armed threats by Turkey. Well, the answer is simple: No country negotiates with “pirates.”

Among other things, if it does, it loses friends and allies. In other words, it runs the risk of losing the support of other countries that are similarly threatened by the same pirates and have decided to resist.

Some say that countries are better off talking to each other rather than sulking with one another. This might sound like a good advice from a marriage counselor – it might help save your marriage – but international relations don’t work that way. Serious governments don’t discuss their international problems in such a childish manner.

Greece and Turkey have been engaged in an “exploratory dialogue” for 20 years now and the positions on both sides have been fully clarified: Greece wants its disputes with Turkey to be resolved on the basis of the International Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which favors Greek positions, while Turkey wants to circumvent International Law, which it has not endorsed – precisely because International Law does not favor Turkish claims.

Now, some people have the nerve to tell us that it is a “maximalist stand” to ask for what International Law provides for Greece! OK, guys. We got the message...

They insist that we should relinquish our sovereign rights before we go to international arbitration. In addition, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has directly called for a revision of the Lausanne Treaty, in Thrace and beyond. 

Now, under military pressures (“hybrid operations” at the Evros River and naval operations in the Kastellorizo region), they are trying to force us to start discussing such an “agenda” – thus “legitimizing” their claims. 

This is precisely the meaning of what is being presented to us as a “dialogue with Turkey” today. There is nothing innocent about it.

We are also told that if we start “discussing” all our sovereign rights with Turkey, we might be able to rescue some of them! If we agree to give away some, Turkey might allow us to keep some! For instance, if we agreed to sacrifice the Kastellorizo “influence” on the exclusive economic zone, we might be able to salvage the EEZ influence of other Greek islands. 

That’s nice! But if Turkey wins something without a fight now, by exercising military threats alone, why not return in the future, applying more military threats, to win even more? 

Our present government insists that there is only one issue that we could discuss with Turkey: the demarcation of the continental shelf-EEZ – and even this strictly on the basis of International Law. Our government is right. Would any European state agree to negotiate or even “give away” its sovereign rights? Would any European state agree to negotiate under escalating military threats? Certainly not. Does Greece have reasons to accept it, even under “duress”? No. And here’s why: 

Because currently Turkey has made more adversaries than it can afford. Turkey has provoked everybody on its periphery to team together against it. Turkey has made the serious strategic mistake of “over-extension.”

An unprecedented alliance has been forged against Turkey in the region by various diverse countries such as Egypt, Israel, the Gulf Arab states (except Qatar) and France. Now Greece should be at the forefront of this anti-Turkish rally. Certainly it should not contemplate capitulation to Turkey! 

If we were today to compromise our sovereign rights to Turkey, we would alienate all our true allies in our region – real and potential. Indeed, this is exactly what some people are asking of us today: capitulation to a bully neighbor which is constantly escalating challenges with all countries in the region, over-extending military threats, totally isolated around its periphery and on the verge of bankruptcy internally! 

And we are being asked to capitulate by those who insist that defending our legitimate sovereign rights is a “maximalist” attitude!

Our political problem is currently how to neutralize Turkey as a bully state in our region. Now we are not alone. Many other countries have exactly the same thing in their minds.

Turkey never had more enemies around it, never had more serious problems internally, and never projected such a negative image abroad. Do we need to add anything else?


Chryssanthos Lazarides served as adviser to former prime minister Antonis Samaras.

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